Recently, I sent an email to a good pastor friend of mine who was denying unconditional election in some statements he was making on his online radio show. I was in no way angry about it, but rather saddened by his denial, because so much hope, joy, and love are seen in this particular point and it shows us that the roots of our salvation begin with God, not with us, in order that He gets all the glory for our salvation, not just 99%, but 100%. The email is an attempt to try to convince him of unconditional election. I post it here with the hopes of someone else who doesn’t believe this doctrine would now be convinced of it. If we really look at our own personal experience in conversion deeply, we see that the decisive reason and cause for our salvation was not our initial good will toward God (because Scripturally we had no good intentions toward God), but rather God’s decisive work in us to will that which is pleasing to Him, namely, faith in His Son.
Before going into this whole thing, I want you to know I admire you so much, appreciate your ministry and see amazing amounts of fruit in it. I just love seeing your desire for the lost to be saved that I also share with you. I praise God for when I see how He’s worked in you and your ministry to will and to work for His good pleasure in helping people come to Jesus. I just want you to be assured that I have nothing at stake in this where I’m trying to “prove a point” or “win” an argument. That is nonsense to me and childish. I love you as a brother in Christ and desire to show that to you. So many “Reformed” types have done a terrible disservice by portraying unconditional election as a fatalistic, mean, harsh doctrine, that God forces people into hell “against their will”, that men have no will of their own, and that secondary causes are of no effect in bringing people to faith. I rather want to present unconditional election in a positive, loving, Biblical light, by God’s grace. I’m a fellow brother of yours in Christ who has been so radically changed and moved in my love for Jesus by this great truth, seeing that the very roots of His salvation mercifully granted to His people go into eternity, into the very counsels of God Himself with His good and perfect plans for the entire world, though we do not fully understand what all He’s doing. I seek for others who love Christ to see the depth of what this doctrine does to radically change the perspective and life of the believer. When I consider God mercifully saving me back in 1997 when I was pursuing rebellion against God as hard as I could, I ask, “Why did you save me, Lord?” and the response from the Scriptures is, “Because I loved you from eternity.” That is unconditional election, in a very short statement. Unconditional electing love. He loved me because He loved me, that’s all I can say and rest in. All the times unconditional election is mentioned in Scripture it is always for the edification of the readers and never presented to bring up dissension in the church. The people who bring dissension into the church with this doctrine nowadays (and in times past) have totally misconstrued and warped the Biblical understanding into a deterministic, pagan Greek idea (aka fatalism) that is far from the way the Scriptures present it. I want to present unconditional election in relation to the love of Christ for His people, from the Bible; that is at least my desire in this and I ask the Lord to help me do just that.
I’m a sinner saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. And as such, I have nothing to boast in concerning this, no knowledge, no wisdom, no insight, as if it came from myself. Everything I have is a gift from God, everything. So if I believe to have insight into a point, God has blessed me with that and I give Him all credit for it. When I speak, I in no way intend to insult your intelligence of the Scriptures or any other way. I simply desire to display what I believe to be the Biblical understanding of this point for your personal edification and relationship with Christ; that is my prayer. All of what I believe concerning election comes from the Scriptures, as I’ll show later on in our conversation. In my conversion experience, unconditional election illustrates itself so clearly, as I’m convinced it does with every believer, if they’ll take a step back and consider the possibility of these things. All I boast of is Jesus and His cross on my behalf to raise me from spiritual death; that work alone is what brought me to faith, applied by the working of the Holy Spirit directly and through secondary means (like people and Scripture). It is my hope in this you will see that the main issue concerning unconditional election is rightly giving God the praise for every step of salvation, from alpha to omega, and that He is the Author, Creator, and Granter of our faith itself. Anyway, with that said …
To get the conversation going, I thought it would be good to start with a few questions that hit at our own personal experience: our conversion. All believers want to give God the credit for their salvation at every step, from beginning to end. I haven’t met a believer who didn’t want to give God all glory for their conversion. Salvation is the work of God through Jesus’s death and resurrection, where He was given on our behalf because we were helpless to save ourselves in any capacity at all. As believers, we all agree on that 🙂 In addition, I want to start with a good definition of unconditional election from Wayne Grudem’s systematic theology: “Election is an act of God before creation in which He chooses some people to be saved, NOT on account of any foreseen merit (or anything else at all) in them, but only because of His sovereign good pleasure.” This has historically, since the Reformation, been known as grace alone, that is, grace alone is the only explanation for why I am saved and another is not. The 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith, article 3, paragraph 5, also has an excellent definition that I would commend: “Those of mankind who are predestinated to life, God chose before the foundation of the world was laid, in accordance with His eternal and immutable purpose and the secret counsel and good pleasure of His will (that we cannot know). God chose them in Christ (that is through the work of the cross) for everlasting glory, solely out of His free grace and love, without anything in the creature as a condition or cause moving Him to choose.” This is unconditional election (what I believe), as opposed to conditional election, where God chooses sinners based upon something he sees in them or something they do.
But what about our faith, through which we were saved? Where did that come from? Hoe does that fit in with Grace Alone? If we were spiritually dead and blind to the message of the Gospel in ourselves naturally (Romans 3:9-18, 8:7-8) (e.g. to Jews the cross is a rock of stumbling, to Gentiles foolishness), how is it we, as foolish Gentiles, came to be “assured of things hoped for … convicted of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1) if we “were dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1)? The answer is in the latter part of Ephesians 2:4-5. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ.” The key there is that God alone, not myself in any capacity, made me alive together with Christ, bringing me from spiritual death, giving me eyes to see and ears to hear, which then infallibly gave rise to my faith because I could now see Christ for who He was. Paul even goes further in this passage to show that faith itself is the grace of God, that is, an undeserved gift graciously bestowed on wrath-deserving sinners. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this [“by grace … through faith”] IS NOT your own doing; it is the Gift of God, not a result of works, SO THAT no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9) God is the One who grants faith by grace alone (not grace plus my good intentions toward God, because I have none prior to regeneration) … so that no one may boast, but rather give God the glory for bringing them to faith. No one is owed salvation or this granting of faith through which we are saved, nor can we earn it in any capacity. We are owed wrath instead, and it is only God’s grace that we are delivered. The point of unconditional election is so that we don’t boast in anything, anything at all, including our faith. This is why election is so difficult to wrestle through, because it strips us totally down where we have nothing to rely on in ourselves, and all that is left is Christ and His power breathing life into our dead souls and sustaining us until the very end.
So I ask again, where did our faith come from? Did our faith arise from our spiritually dead soul, or did we produce it out of our unregenerated human nature? Now I want to affirm something many so-called “Reformed” people who misunderstand this doctrine and distort it do not either believe or convey: historic Reformed theology strongly affirms that we are the one’s who will to believe in Christ or not. “Freewillians” and historic “Predestinarians” both agree on that in fact. God doesn’t will for us or believe for us. We either believe, or we don’t, ourselves. We do make a genuine choice pertaining to Christ. But the question is why do we make the choice we do, namely the choice in favor of Christ as Lord and Savior? Most who disagree with predestination will throw the Scriptures up against it that say “Whosoever will” as an attempt to discredit the validity of this doctrine (though the words “predestined” “elect” “election” “chosen” “called” are all in the New Testament itself and must be dealt with if we are to be faithful to the Scriptures). But my response to those who would raise those verses as a counter-point to unconditional election is, of course whosoever believes will be saved. That doesn’t answer the issue we are dealing with though in unconditional election. I have no problem preaching those verses because they are Biblical. “For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.'” (Romans 10:13) “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) Indeed, God has loved the world by sending Christ into it, that if anyone throws themselves at the feet of Christ for salvation, they will be saved. I believe that with all my heart and will teach it, just as C.H. Spurgeon did, who also believed this great truth of unconditional election.
Yet these verses, as precious as they are to Gospel preaching, just beg the question being aimed at in discussing unconditional election in particular: being dead in tresspasses and sin, naturally a slave to sin under the blindness and darkness of the wrath of God, why did I will what I willed when I trusted Christ? Why did I desire what I desired when I fell in love with Christ? Being the sinful wretch that I am, poor, blind, and naked, how did I will something pleasing to God, namely faith? How did I come under such deep conviction all of a sudden that I had so thoroughly offended God by slapping Him in the face with my glory-hating life? The Scriptures answer these questions adequately: the Holy Spirit came in, and gave me new birth, gave me spiritual eyes to see, ears to hear, and cut me to the heart with the message of the Gospel, bringing deep conviction of sin and great love and trust in Jesus. “We love because He first loved us.” (1 John 4:19) and “The Lord opened [Lydia’s] heart to respond to Paul’s message.” (Acts 16:14) He cut me (and all who believe) to the heart by His power through the work of the cross, applied by the Spirit, when I wanted nothing of Him in my rebellious sin. He did not merely give me an opportunity to be saved (though indeed that is true and I surely affirm that), but He made sure I got saved by His supernatural, incomprehensible power, “making me alive together with Christ.” Is there any way I can claim credit for my belief in Christ who I cannot see with my physical eyes, though now I know in my heart of hearts He is who He says He is, the Christ? Why am I not a Pharisee, hardened in unbelief, left to my sinfully dead will that always chooses evil in the sight of God? Where did that conviction and resolve come from that Jesus is the King of Glory? Was it not from the hand of God Himself that brought me to faith in His Son? If not, isn’t this something I could rightly boast in as having done myself apart from God’s work? But if so, was this not a choice He made to move in me and bring me to faith in His Son? And when did He make this choice to save me through the cross? “He chose us (believers) in [Christ] before the foundation of the world…” (Ephesians 1:4)
Here’s a scenario I would pose as an illustration …
Two unbelieving people, best friends, go to a church and hear a preacher very clearly present the Gospel. One believes and the other rejects it as foolishness.
Why does one person believe and the other reject the message? What made the difference? Was it intelligence? Sheer willing of faith by his own spiritual strength out of a sinfully dead state? Was one was more naturally inclined to believe than the other? Was one more spiritually empowered by nature than the other? Was it anything at all within the guy as a reason for why he believed?
The Reformational nickname for election is “grace alone,” because there is no other explanation besides grace as to why one is saved and another hearer of the gospel is not. To deny unconditional election is to deny “grace alone,” which as Luther clearly stated, was the hinge upon which the Reformation turned. Denying unconditional election, as very carefully articulated in Romans 9 in particular, is essentially denying that the decisive reason for our salvation was something other than God’s grace (free will led by chance, spirituality, intelligence, etc.).
I believe that dwelling upon these questions and then going to the Scriptures (particularly Romans 8:28-30, Romans 9, Ephesians 1, John 6, several places in Acts), unconditional election is an inescapable reality in the Bible itself that brings so much joy in our faith; it is solid rock to place our feet on when everything around us crumbles. “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31) That is the hope of God’s unconditional electing grace, from beginning to end. “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6)
To end, I want to quote C.H. Spurgeon where he says something profound that hits right at the center of this:
“The thought struck me, How did you come to be a Christian? I sought the Lord. But how did you come to seek the Lord? The truth flashed across my mind in a moment—I should not have sought Him unless there had been some previous influence in my mind to make me seek Him. I prayed, thought I, but then I asked myself, How came I to pray? I was induced to pray by reading the Scriptures. How came I to read the Scriptures? I did read them, but what led me to do so? Then, in a moment, I saw that God was at the bottom of it all, and that He was the Author of my faith, and so the whole doctrine of grace opened up to me, and from that doctrine I have not departed to this day, and I desire to make this my constant confession, ‘I ascribe my change wholly to God.'”
Your Brother in Christ,
“What do you have that you did not receive?” – 1 Corinthians 4:7
“But by the grace of God, I am what I am.” – 1 Corinthians 15:10